The recently closed Scarborough Downs harness racing track will be the site of Maine’s first large-scale coronavirus vaccination clinic, MaineHealth announced Thursday.
The grandstand will be retrofitted into a 30,000-square foot clinic able to hold 100 staffers and vaccinate at least 1,000 people a day, according to a news release from the health care provider. The clinic is expected to open within two weeks and operate for six months.
Work on the historic track, which closed after 70 years of use in late 2020, will include creating clinical workspaces, improving access to high-speed broadband and creating refrigeration rooms to hold the vaccines, which require ultra-cold temperatures to remain viable.
The news comes as Maine is working to expand its vaccination efforts to residents 70 and older. Demand has been high as vaccine supply remains constrained. MaineHealth reported receiving 18,000 calls for vaccine appointments on Monday, the first day such appointments could be made, which far outstrips the provider’s capacity.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday the agency was continuing to look for sites similar to the Scarborough location across the state that were centrally located, had sufficient parking and could administer a high number of vaccines, giving the state increased flexibility if supply increases.
“These are important so that if we got maybe 30,000 doses of vaccine next week instead of 17,000, we could quickly administer them,” Shah said.
He said the state was working with town officials in other major population areas, including Bangor, to set up additional sites, but declined to provide specifics, saying plans were still “very much in flux.”
The Scarborough town council is expected to meet next Tuesday to approve and finalize plans for the project. The track and adjoining 500 acres were sold in 2018 to Crossroads Holdings, a development firm planning a $20 million retail, commercial and housing development.
Peter Michaud, a managing partner at Crossroads Holdings and Maine Properties, said work on the project began on Jan. 12 with 40 to 60 people working at the site. The company will be donating the cost of creating the site, but MaineHealth will be responsible for outfitting it with necessary refrigeration and ventilation equipment, he said.
The project came together after an early-January conversation with MaineHealth leaders, Michaud said. It will not affect the future development of the grandstand, which Michaud said Crossroads Holdings was still finalizing.